19 November 1999
Our current howler (part II): Hidden ball trick
Synopsis: A tabloid talker has helped show why we spent so much time on the Dem town hall forum.
Commentary by Judy Woodruff
Inside Politics, CNN, 11/17/99
Sometimes, when the big boys play hardball, they indulge in
the hidden ball trick. And so it's been on the inventive show
Hardball. It has now been nine straight nights since polls
began showing Gore back ahead in New Hampshire. This Wednesday,
that softball gang on Inside Politics reported another
WOODRUFF: The Quinnipiac College poll shows Gore now is three
points ahead of Bill Bradley in the lead-off primary state, within
the margin of error. Last month, Bradley was ahead by eight points.
A graphic showed Gore leading, 44-41. Last month, according
to the graphic, Quinnipiac's numbers showed Bradley up, 47-39.
Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea who will win the New Hampshire
primary. But we recall how a talker tortured the numbers as Bradley
pulled ahead six weeks back. But now, with three new polls showing
Gore ahead, not a word has been mentioned on Hardball.
Indeed, last week Newsweek's Howard Fineman came on to
discuss a new article; the article included Newsweek's new
poll, showing Gore now ten points ahead (see THE DAILY
HOWLER, 11/16/99). But neither Fineman nor a talker ever mentioned
that fact; instead, they talked about how the primary was now
"getting close." Hardball viewers can just go
buy the mag if they want to see data like that.
Dear readers: do you now see why we spent so much time on the
aftermath of the Dem town hall forum? We have never covered any
event which showed the press corps' gruesome conduct so clearly.
Forty-eight hours after the forum, the press corps, en masse,
had all memorized a story. Gore had seemed programmed, rehearsed,
and manic; Bradley came off as authentic. The scribes then competed
with one another to see who could tell the tale in the silliest
way; eventually, Juan Williams told viewers on Fox News Sunday
that you'd have to be stoned to believe Gore had "won"
(see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/99). As we pointed out, almost no
one had offered this now-uniform view immediately after the Democrats'
forum. And a Gallup poll of New Hampshire Dems who watched the
forum made it close39-38 said Bradley did better. Dem viewers
called the forum a draw.
Do you understand why a tabloid talker (and others) haven't
mentioned the three new polls? The press corps put in a lot of
work, telling you Gore was a clown at the forum. In fact, both
Bradley and Gore made impressive, smart showings, in a forum that
was especially sharp because journalists played a quite minor
role. (Translation: no disgraceful questions from Bernie Shaw
about what you'd do if your wife was murdered.) It is now quite
clear that New Hampshire voters have responded favorably to Gore
in recent weeks. The press corps doesn't want you to know that.
It's a form of the hidden ball trick.
Nopewe don't know who will win this primary. We thought both
hopefuls did well at the forum. But all the trashing of Gore for
his manner and clothes doesn't seem to have taken with Granite
State voters. The pundits, as usual, were groaningly wrong. They
don't seem to have a spin for it yet.